Manchester United likely to show patience with David Moyes…for now
Two defeats and one scrappy draw amid a hat-trick of pitiful performances in as many heavyweight bouts showed in no uncertain terms just why Manchester United manager David Moyes lamented over a tough Premier League start for the English champions when the fixture list was drawn during the close-season.
Sunday’s comprehensive 4-1 drubbing by cross-town rivals City, which followed a 1-0 defeat at Liverpool and a tame goalless stalemate with Chelsea, exposed all the chinks in the armour of a squad who won their 20th league title last season thanks to the scoring prowess of Robin van Persie and the firm steering hand of Alex Ferguson.
Neither played any part in the derby.
The prolific Dutch striker pulled out with a groin strain while the trophy-laden Ferguson, who welcomed the prospect of no longer suffering by the touchline when he retired last season after 27 years in charge, must have felt at least some of the pain suffered by Moyes in what has become an extended baptism by fire for the former Everton manager.
After all, Ferguson hand-picked the fellow Scotsman for the job.
As my colleague Martyn Herman pointed out, only the long-standing winners’ mentality and the seemingly perennial ability to grind out results in the face of adversity papered over last season’s cracks at United, which have come down on the ill-prepared Moyes like a ton of bricks.
Not that United’s new manager is entirely blameless for their poor start.
The last-minute signing of his former Everton protégé Marouane Fellaini and the Belgian’s nondescript early performances will have assured few United fans that adding yet another enforcer to a midfield so palpably lacking a playmaker with an eye for goal was the right decision.
Even more so after England under-21 international attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard scored four goals in his debut for Birmingham City, having been loaned to the Championship side last week to hone his skills.
And that came after a preseason tug-of-war with Wayne Rooney and the failure to land a major signing that would have injected fresh blood into the squad, whose hunger for more success was questioned even by City captain Vincent Kompany after the one-sided Manchester derby.
When Ferguson delivered an emotional farewell speech at Old Trafford with the title in the bag last season, he asked United fans to show the same amount of patience and support for Moyes which the club had shown for him during a turbulent first few years at the helm.
Knowing that his successor would need time to come to grips in uncharted territory, neither Ferguson nor the Stretford End faithful expected Moyes to hit the ground running but most donning red in Manchester must have hoped for a happier reading than the one seemingly on the cards.
Conceding in his post-match comments that he would have preferred a kinder introduction to the unfamiliar role of aiming for a trophy in every competition, Moyes resembled a Formula One pilot needing more test runs than offered in a new, superior car.
If Ferguson did too at any point during his first four years at Old Trafford, that’s because the side he took over from Ron Atkinson in 1986 was largely an unfinished product and by all means a far cry from the well-oiled if slightly worn down machine he handed over to Moyes.
The 70-year old Scot, who went on to capture 38 trophies in all competitions at United, arrived at Old Trafford with the successes of breaking the Celtic-Rangers stranglehold in Scotland when guiding his unfancied Aberdeen team to the title and getting a taste of European glory in 1983, when they beat Real Madrid 2-1 to win the now defunct Cup Winners’ Cup.
Moyes, who may have plausibly regarded finishing in the top six of England’s Premier League with Everton as a trophy in its own right, is learning the hard way that a steady inflow of silverware is a requirement and not an option by United’s standards.
It is unlikely that the board’s patience with Moyes will have been tested so early in the season, but failure to bounce back immediately, always the measure at United as Ferguson said several times down the years, would inevitably put question marks over his ability at the top level.
PHOTO: Manchester United’s manager David Moyes (R) and assistant Phil Neville react during their English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northern England, September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Darren Staples